VANCOUVER - All health-care workers and volunteers will soon have to be vaccinated against COVID-19 in British Columbia as the provincial government expands its immunization program.
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said Monday the vaccine mandate will take effect Oct. 26 and it will be a condition of employment for all workers, including physicians, contractors and volunteers in health facilities. It also applies to people who work in home and community care locations, including client homes.
"We are now in a place where we need to take additional measures," Henry said during a news conference in Vancouver.
Every individual request for a medical or religious exemption will be reviewed by a committee of experts at the Provincial Health Office. Details about that process will be released soon, Henry said.
"In some cases that may mean people being reassigned, people being assigned to separate areas, having to take additional measures like being tested on a regular basis. But the ultimate end for people who choose not to be immunized, who work in health care, is leave without pay," Henry said.
The rule doesn't apply to private practitioners like some physiotherapists who don't have employment privileges through health authorities or their contractors, she said.
The new mandate will apply to upwards of 100,000 more workers, Health Minister Adrian Dix said, although he did not have specific figures available.
Quebec has also announced mandatory vaccines for health workers beginning in October. Ontario is requiring unvaccinated health workers who don't have a documented medical exemption to take an education session and be subject to regular tests.
British Columbia is also giving third vaccine doses to severely immunocompromised individuals.
Henry says about 15,000 eligible British Columbians will be contacted to receive a third dose in accordance with guidance from the National Advisory Committee on Immunization. They include those who've received an organ, bone marrow or stem cell transplant.
Henry said experts are reviewing data to better understand the risks to another 120,000 people who are moderately immunocompromised.
The Canadian Medical Association and the Canadian Nurses Association called for mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations for health-care workers more than a month ago, saying it would be an "additional measure to protect patients, the health workforce and health-care system capacity."
Henry said outbreaks in acute care settings are disruptive, especially because of a shortage of workers, and there is a need to protect patients.
There are small pockets of unvaccinated workers, but her office has had challenges getting information on immunization from acute care facilities, she added.
Henry has already issued an order for all health-care staff in long-term care and assisted-living facilities to be fully vaccinated by Oct. 12. Henry said she'd heard concerns that those workers would leave for acute care settings in order to avoid vaccination, but that will no longer be an option.
British Columbia said Monday it had recorded 1,984 new cases of COVID-19 since Friday, for an average of 661 cases per day. There were 5,825 active cases, with 278 of those patients hospitalized, including 139 in intensive care.
Nine more people died from COVID-19 over the three-day period for a total death toll of 1,865.
About 85.8 per cent of all eligible of eligible people 12 and older in B.C. have received their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 78.4 per cent have received their second.
Dix said vaccination rates are higher among health workers than the general public.
The announcement of new measures came the same day that B.C.'s vaccination card system went into effect in an effort to curtail the fourth wave of the pandemic.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 13, 2021.